Among the appeals made by reggae music and its messengers is one to a higher consciousness. So, the convergence of an eclipsing super moon and the Catch A Fire Tour of reggae superstars seemed most suitable on this night in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. Only a mile separates the city’s famed hilltop observatory and its equally cherished Greek amphitheater, where thousands came looking for the show; terrestrial or celestial. Hard luck for Tarrus Riley, whose wholehearted opening appearance suffered too many empty seats thanks to the gridlock that inched along the same lone road in use for both venues, but otherwise with friends Morgan Heritage, Super Cat, Black Am I, Jo Mersa, Stephen Marley, and Damian Marley gave a performance of unity and universal celebration.
“It’s cool to be conscious,” shouted Peetah Morgan, one of five brothers that comprise Morgan Heritage. Maybe the most mainstream artist on the bill, the royal family of reggae was, though, the most vocal of advocates for change, making a point to connect with the multi-cultural L.A. audience. Ranging from a Toots Hibbert tribute that referenced The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” to cuts from its latest Strictly Roots album, the quintet then gave way to Super Cat’s energetic relief appearance, subbing in for the ailing Barrington Levy, for a running-rapids collection of dancehall hits.
A pair of one-offs from Black Am I and Jo Mersa (“Rock and Swing”) preceded the penultimate set of Stephen Marley, launching his time with his father’s “Lively Up Yourself,” as projected video re-enacted the lunar event. Mostly, though, the effervescent Marley stuck to his Grammy-winning Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life, on a trio of cuts- “Break Us Apart,” “Can’t Keep I Down,” and “No Cigarette Smoking”- before his nephew Skip cameoed on “Cry To Me.” A few more Bob classics, including “Is This Love” morphing into “Buffalo Soldier,” had the cell phone cameras aloft, closing with the group-sing of “Three Little Birds.”
Last up on this six-hour marathon was Damian Marley’s set that followed in the evening’s homage to Bob Marley’s 70th anniversary with an instrumental rendition of “Sun is Shining” before Jr. Gong emerged for a surging “Make It Bun Dem.” Drawing widely from his catalog, Marley moved from early tracks “More Justice” and “Love and Inity” to duets with sibling Stephen on “The Traffic Jam” and a colossal finale of “Could You Be Loved” that united most of the concert’s performers and a surprise drop-in from Melody Maker and big sister Cedella Marley. As the super moon reached its apex, Marley and friends reached theirs on encore “Road to Zion,” leading those to find that higher place right where the messengers said it would be; on stage and in the sky above.